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Raise your hand if you think you're a pretty good grocery shopper. You know, the type of shopper who always has the right stuff in their fridge or pantry for healthy meals. We're not talking packs of instant ramen, slices of American cheese, and spaghetti. If you're reading this site, chances are you know your stuff (or at least are getting there). Well, we're getting there, too. And there's always room for improvement or something new to learn, right?
For your upcoming grocery-store trip, or the next time you're surveying your pantry and refrigerator inventory, we thought it'd be helpful to find out what are the healthiest foods out there that nutritionists recommend keeping in your kitchen at all times. Consider these your staples to have on hand for meal planning, prepping, and producing (whether you're a master chef or not).
Get your shopping list ready.
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Lemons: This fruit is so versatile—even if you bought a whole bag of them, you might not have enough because you can use it for pretty much everything. "[They're] pretty cheap, alkalizing, and a great source of vitamin C. Add to some water, marinades, dressings, salads, smoothies, juices, fish, chicken, or even baked goods to bring out added flavor. The sky is the limit," says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition.
Nathalie Rhone, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Nutrition by Nathalie, shares a helpful morning-routine tip: "I use lemons every morning in warm lemon water to get a boost of vitamin C, help flush out the system, get the digestive system going, and jump-start my body for the day. Make sure you drop the lemon wedge into your cup because most of the antioxidants are in the skin!"
Kale: It wouldn't be wrong to call kale king (or queen). It's been reigning for years because when Beyoncé wears a sweatshirt with your name on it, you know you've made it. But all joking aside, kale is a serious superfood packed with nutrients. "I start every morning with a green juice and recommend my clients do as well," Rhone says. "I like to keep a variety of greens in my fridge so I can change things up each morning, but the most detoxifying leafy green out there is Lacinato kale. Use it in juices, smoothies, salads, or sautéed with onions and olive oil to pair with protein."
Berries: Choose your favorite; they're all good. "Loaded with antioxidants and fiber, [they're] a perfect addition to your morning fruit plate or smoothie," Rhone says.
Avocado: "Loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, avocados help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and support a healthy weight," Rhone says. "They are also packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals that can improve skin health, immune function, and hormonal balance. Eat half of an avocado daily. Throw it in smoothies, salads, on toast, paired with eggs or fruit!"
Organic Crudités: "Keeping raw, sliced veggies in the fridge makes an easy go-to snack or topping for salads," Rhone adds. "I like having baby carrots, celery, peppers, tomato, and cucumber on hand at all times! Eat raw. Dip in hummus, guacamole, salsa, or your favorite dressing." Buy them whole at the grocery store (it's cheaper), and when you get home, cut them up and store them in containers. That way, when you're lazy during the week, all you have to do is grab and go.
Eggs: Okay, yes, eggs are not dairy, but they're always found in the dairy aisle! "My go-to easy meal maker, as they are considered a complete protein," Shapiro says. "They contain all the essential amino acids and therefore provide your body with lots of nutrients. They also contain choline, an amino acid important in brain development; omegas; and vitamin D3. Try whisking three egg whites to one egg yolk. Don’t skip the yolks altogether; that is where the nutrition is."
Frozen Vegetables: While fresh is always preferable, sometimes life gets too crazy and you can't go to the store or farmers market for some produce. "With these in your freezer, you'll never have an excuse to not add vegetables to your meal," Shapiro says. "Pack your freezer with frozen veggies so you always have a backup plan to whip up dinner, even when you have nothing else. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked and flash-frozen at their peak ripeness, so they are totally as nutritious as their fresh counterparts."
Frozen Blueberries: Again, these are a convenient option when you can't get them fresh. "Frozen wild blueberries are tiny, but don’t be fooled by their size. Wild blueberries contain more antioxidants than regular blueberries!" Shapiro says. "They are high in anthocyanin, the antioxidant that gives them their blue hue, and are known to prevent cognitive decline. They are also lower in sugar and higher in fiber than most fruits out there. I recommend frozen because they allow you to eat them all year long. Add them to yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, etc."
Chia Seeds: "[They] contain fiber, omegas (vegan source), have no taste, and swell up to eight times their size with liquid, filling you up for hours. Just make sure to follow up with lots of water so the seeds can swell and you can get that staying power," Shapiro recommends. "You can sprinkle them on anything from yogurt to smoothies to a spoonful of nut butter. Get creative!"
Beans/Lentils: These are another versatile ingredient. Add them to soups and stews, or make them as a side dish or main. "[They're] chock-full of protein, fiber, B vitamins," Shapiro says. "Add to anything, or eat on their own, for a total nutritional boost and bargain! You can buy dry and whip them up yourself, but you can easily find them pre-cooked or canned. (If buying canned, make sure they’re in a BPA-free lined can.) A pantry staple for sure!"
Apple Cider Vinegar: "Inexpensive and totally versatile, it can be used in cooking, household products, and even DIY beauty products! Make sure to pick up raw ACV that contains The Mother," Shapiro recommends. "The Mother contains all the enzymes and benefits. ACV has potent good bacteria, like probiotics that can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol, balance the GI tract, and has been known to help with weight loss. Toss on a salad or add into a dressing, or add a tablespoon to water!"
Nut Butter: Whether it's almond or cashew or peanut, you can't go wrong (especially when it's all-natural). One to two tablespoons of nut butter pairs well with raw veggies, and it's a great pick-me-up or late-night snack," Rhone says. "Nut butter is filled with good fats and protein, making it a filling and satisfying option. I also love it on rice cakes or toast."
Mustard: Guess we know who won the ketchup-versus-mustard war here. "It's an incredibly versatile condiment, and not to mention low-calorie," Shapiro says. "Mustard can be used on its own as a low-sodium condiment, incorporated in home dressing and marinades, or, my favorite, spreading on some salmon before popping in the oven! Mustard provides the perfect zing with practically zero calories or fat. Another reason to love mustard? Mustard seeds have been associated with preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and managing asthma."
Sauerkraut/Kimchi: "Sauerkraut is not just for hot dogs and hamburgers! Sauerkraut and kimchi are both great sources of probiotics, which, as we know, is great for gut health," Shapiro says. "Whether you go for sauerkraut or kimchi, you’ll pretty much get the same benefit. Both are pickled cabbage that has been fermented. Toss on a salad, sandwich, or put on the side of your meal for some major GI benefits."
High-Quality Olive Oil: Emphasis on the high-quality, though. "My go-to base for salad dressings," Rhone says. "It's important to have olive oil that is dark green in color. If it's lighter, the oil has most likely been mixed with another oil, like canola. It should also be stored in a dark glass or tin container so that sunlight cannot degrade the quality of the oil."
Coconut Oil/Avocado Oil: Rhone recommends buying oils that are unrefined and organic. "Both coconut oil and avocado oil have a higher smoke point than olive oil, making them a better option for cooking in high heat. When heated above a certain temperature, the molecular structure of olive oil is changed, making it more carcinogenic."
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Spirulina or Chlorella: "They are waterborne algae that offer antioxidants, minerals, and even protein," Shapiro says. "Chlorella is known for its rich green color from chlorophyll and is known best for its ability to detoxify heavy metals from our body. Spirulina has a blue-green tint and is a better source of protein than chlorella and has more omega-3s. Both algae have superpowers and should have a place in your diet. Trying adding to smoothies or yogurt bowls. And don't be afraid of that gorgeous green!"